Photo courtesy of piratesprospects.com
The Pittsburgh Pirates traded their ace Gerrit Cole to the Houston Astros for four players last night. Before we analyze the players involved, let’s look at the decision to trade him in the first place: Pittsburgh is a small market team not expected to contend this upcoming season, and Cole is a free agent in two years. In other words, they were trying to trade him while his value was at its peak. What can we take from that information? Their decision to trade him makes sense.
A few weeks ago, reports were saying that the New York Yankees wanted Cole, but that Pittsburgh wanted top prospect Gleyber Torres in return. Torres is considered one of the top two prospects in the game, so this implied that Pittsburgh’s asking price was pretty high. They wouldn’t even settle for Clint Frazier, the #15 overall prospect going into last season (according to MLB.com). It also didn’t matter that they would be getting other prospects as part of the deal, they wanted Torres or Frazier AND top pitching prospect Chance Adams or there would be no trade. They had a high asking price and you had to commend them for it, considering the lack of available high quality starting pitchers on the market. Therefore it came as a surprise when they finally traded Cole for a package of players that was far inferior to the one that they were asking from the New York Yankees. The Houston Astros didn’t have to trade ANY of their top prospects to get him!
How good is Cole exactly? Let’s take a look at his stats courtesy of Baseball-reference.com:
As we can see he was a Cy Young candidate in 2015, but declined in his next 2 seasons. His K/9 rate however was back to his 2015 form in 2017. Add his age (26) and his status as a former number one pick in the draft, and he has potential. He also worked through injury in his down 2016.
So what did Pittsburgh get in return? Well first there’s Joe Musgrove. Musgrove is a 25 year old righty who pitched to a 4.52 ERA and 4.31 FIP in 171.1 innings (25 starts in 49 games) in his career so far (2016-2017). He is credited with a 0.7 rWAR.He also had an 8.0 K/9 rate in 2016 and an improved 8.1 K/9 rate in 2017. Musgrove has potential but so far only due to his K/9 rate.
Another player that they received in return is Michael Feliz. Feliz is a 24 year old righty who compiled a cumulative 5.13 ERA and 3.67 FIP in 121.0 innings across three seasons (2015-2017). He also comes with a 12.8 K/9 rate and a -0.7 rWAR. The difference between the two righties however is that Musgrove pitched both as a starter and as a reliever, and Feliz pitched exclusively as a reliever.
Colin Moran is the third player received by Pittsburgh in the deal. He’s a 25 year old left handed hitting third baseman who compiled a 0.1 rWAR in his two seasons of play (2016-2017). He batted .206/.270/.382 in a combined 37 at bats.
The final player received by Pittsburgh is Jason Martin. Martin is a 22 year old left handed hitting outfielder who compiled a .269/.345/.446 batting line across 5 minor league seasons, with AA being the highest level that he was so far able to reach.
So…that’s a starting pitcher with some potential, a reliever with some potential, an unproven third baseman who is getting up there in age, and a AA outfielder who is so far not bad but also is not a top prospect. Does that seem like a fair return for a potential ace? I don’t think so. Pittsburgh GM Neal Huntington could’ve waited until the trading deadline in 2018 when teams would be more desperate for pitching. Had he done so he would’ve either received a similar return or a far higher one had Cole bounced back to his 2015 form. In short, Pittsburgh sold low on Cole and that’s rarely a good thing.